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Leo has to adjust on the fly if he is to take world title

Albuquerque native Angelo Leo lands a left jab against Alberto Torres during a fight in February 2019, won by Leo via unanimous decision. Leo fights for a bantamweight world title on Saturday night. (Courtesy of Angelo Leo)

Nothing so insignificant as a late change in opponents – from righty to lefty, no less – will take Angelo Leo’s eye off his long-cherished and long-sought goal:

A professional boxing world championship.

Saturday, Leo (19-0, nine knockouts), an Albuquerque native, is scheduled to face Tramaine Williams (19-0, six KOs) at Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut with the vacant WBO super bantamweight (122-pound) title at stake.

The bout is the main event of a card to be telecast nationally on Showtime.

The enormity of the moment is not lost on Leo, 26.

‘This is the thing I’ve worked hard for and this is what I’ve worked for my whole life,” he said this week in a phone interview.

And yet: no nerves.

“Not at all, surprisingly,” he said. “Not really. I’ve worked extremely hard for this fight, and I’ve got no nerves. … It’s like an appointment, basically, how I see it, an appointment to pick up my world title.”

The Journal’s interview with Leo took place before Wednesday’s surprising news – well, perhaps not so surprising, given the times we live in – that Stephen Fulton Jr., Leo’s original opponent, was out after testing positive for COVID-19.

Enter Williams, also a super bantamweight, who had been booked for another fight on the card and was quickly elevated to the main event.

One problem: Leo had been preparing for weeks to face Fulton, a right-hander. Williams is left-handed.

Still, in an on-site interview conducted Thursday by Showtime, Leo seemed unfazed.

“These things happen in boxing, so you just have to stay focused and prepared for anything,” he said. “Luckily, Tramaine isn’t too much of a different fighter from Fulton. He’s got similar styles. The only difference is he’s a southpaw.”

Most people in boxing would say that’s a big difference, not a small one. But Leo’s 7 1/2-year pro career has prepared him for almost any eventuality.

He was introduced to boxing by his father, Miguel, who’d not been a boxer but loved the sport. He took his young son to the gym just to see if he’d like it.

He did.

“It all kind of started out as just a hobby,” the younger Leo said, “a father teaching something he knew. Then it just started getting bigger and bigger and bigger, and I started winning fights. It just kind of gained traction, and we both developed a passion for the sport.”

Born in Albuquerque – he lived in Los Angeles for few years but graduated from Atrisco Heritage – Leo began his pro career here. After a promising start, though, opportunities in New Mexico became scarce.

In 2017, father and son moved to the boxing Mecca of Las Vegas, Nevada. There, Angelo began working out at Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s gym and caught the eye of the staff. He signed with Mayweather Promotions later that year.

Since then, Leo has a 9-0 record compiled against opponents with a combined record 175-52-1 – not a bum in the lot – while facing a variety of styles. He has faced four southpaws during that span.

Meanwhile, you can take the fighter out of Albuquerque but you can’t take Albuquerque out of the fighter. Longtime Albuquerque trainer Luis Chavez will work Leo’s corner with the boxer’s father on Saturday.

Because of COVID-19 concerns, Leo was allowed only two cornermen to travel with him for the fight. Normally, he has a Mayweather trainer in his corner.

“We had a little problem,” Chavez said by phone. “They didn’t want to take me, the Mayweather people. But Miguel said ‘No, Luis is with me for Angelo’s whole career.’ So everything’s OK.”

Of Williams, Chavez said, “This guy is quick, he’s pretty fast. … We’ll have to make a few adjustments (for Williams’ southpaw stance). But Angelo’s looking good, looking good.

“It’s a good opportunity to fight for a world title, and Angelo is very hungry for this fight. Hopefully we can bring another champion, another world champion, to Albuquerque, New Mexico.”

With a victory, Leo would become the fifth Albuquerquean to hold a boxing world title sponsored by a universally recognized sanctioning body, joining Bob Foster, Johnny Tapia, Danny Romero and Holly Holm.

He’d be the sixth New Mexican, joining the aforementioned four and Las Cruces’ Austin Trout.

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